John on Wine – Charity and more

This piece originally ran as my wine column in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, October 8, 2015; but has been added to specifically for this longer archived online version.

Barra of Mendocino hosts the annual Let the Fur Fly fashion show to benefit the Humane Society and hosts the Kiwanis Crab Feed to help the group’s revenue stream for their yearly activities.

Nelson Family Vineyards supports the community, having played host to the Ukiah Symphony and Project Sanctuary.

Fetzer holds a regular Community Wine Sale, with spectacular discounts, and the proceeds led to a recent $3,000 donation to the Gardens Project of the North Coast to “help further their commitment to healthy, vibrant communities and community gardens.”


Fetzer’s $3,000 donation to the Gardens Project of the North Coast will help healthy and sustainable agriculture, and feed people, here in Mendocino County.

Every winery in Mendocino County receives hundreds of requests for donations, and choose among those who have made legal requests, holding a California ABC daily wine license for an IRS recognized non-profit organization, to better our community.

The wineries of Coro Mendocino pour at Gala on the Green to benefit Mendocino College, Mendocino County’s organic growers help make Pure Mendocino a successful fundraiser for the Cancer Resource Centers of Mendocino County, Winesong sees 100 wineries donate wine for tasting and auction to benefit the Mendocino Coast Hospital Foundation , and the wineries that pour at the World Champion Abalone Cook-off & Festival in Ft. Bragg help fund the Mendocino Area Parks Association

Mendocino vineyards and wineries are part of the community, and support their neighbors through countless acts of charity.

Now it is your turn to help our vineyard and winery owners, and your neighbors, that suffered calamitous loss in the recent Valley Fire. In the wake of the Valley Fire, our neighbors in Lake County need help, and Beckstoffer Vineyards made a $50,000 donation to the #LakeCountyRising fundraising campaign, in the wake of the horrific devastation affecting up to 25% of Lake County’s grapes. Please visit the Lake County Rising page on Facebook, and make any donation, no matter how small, to help the vineyard owners recover from this tragedy.

Closer to home, Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman and a group of community leaders joined together to create a special fundraiser to allow Mendocino County’s residents to help our neighbors in Lake County who lost homes and property in the fire, a spaghetti feed & auction with music at the Redwood Empire Fairgrounds in Ukiah on October 25, 2015 from 4-8pm, called “Neighbors Helping Neighbors, Mendocino Loves Lake County.” Tickets are just $15 each, children under 6 eat free, and are available at all Mendo Mills locations. I will absolutely be there!

Again, please help our neighbors in Lake County by participating in one or both of these great fundraising efforts.


Recently, I tasted wines in Anderson Valley at the Boonville tasting rooms of Philo Ridge Vineyards and Seebass Family Wines, two of the four Fratty Pike participants. Fratty Pike is Boontling for Wine Trail, and by visiting these two tasting rooms, plus Witching Stick and Greenwood Ridge, tasters can be entered into a monthly drawing to win a $100 wine gift.

At Philo Ridge, manager Jill Derwinski told me that she wished my visit was a month into the future, so I could taste a host of new vintage wine releases. I promised to return for a future winery spotlight column, put my notebook away, and tasted wines for simple enjoyment. The current releases of owners Fred R. Buonanno and Heather A. McKelvey’s wines were uniformly tasty and Jill was a charming host. I look forward to returning.

At Seebass Family Winery, I was blessed to have the fairer half of the ownership duo, Michelle Myrenne Willoughby, pour for me, while her husband Scott was home preparing a vineyard dinner for the pilots and crew of the B-17 that recently visited the Ukiah airport. It is always a treat to see either Scott or Michelle, their passion for their community, active participation in groups that promote our wines and tourism, and the delicious wines that are made from the grapes they grow, have made me quite fond of all they do. On a hot day in Philo, Michelle let me have a vertical tasting, a tasting of successive vintages, of their deliciously crisp yet round and richly flavored Fantasie Rosé of Grenache.

I was in the Anderson Valley to pour the Mendocino County Fair Wine Competition Best of Show White Wine, the Sparkling Cuvee Brut; the Double Gold Pinot Noir; and the Gold Medal Sauvignon Blanc at the Mendocino County Fair for McFadden. I showed up early and helped the fantastically competent Executive Director for the Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association, Janis MacDonald, set up. In addition to representatives from Greenwood Ridge and Navarro during my pouring shift, I got to pour next to Bonterra’s Joel Clark, which was a treat as Joel and I were able to reminisce about a previous winery employer in common and talked about a visit for me to taste all of Bonterra’s wines for a future column. That, and Joel was pouring a delicious Merlot. It was surprising to find how few of the tasters knew of McFadden, or where the Potter Valley is, or had not visited Hopland in the previous year. The tasters were definitely Anderson Valley-centric, but hopefully Joel and I poured a few reasons to inspire visits over the hill to explore inland Mendocino’s wine scene.

About a month ago, I wrote that every winery and vineyard in Mendocino County should be members of Mendocino Winegrowers, Inc. (MWI), and followed up with a piece the next week announcing that MWI was looking for a new executive director. That position has been filled by the remarkably perfect person for the position, Bernadette Byrne.


Bernadette has previously served as the President of the Mendocino County Vintners Association and Executive Director of the Mendocino County Winegrowers Alliance, two groups with a similar mission to today’s MWI. Bernadette has lived and worked in the county for 28 years, including stints at Fetzer Vineyards and Saracina. Most notably. Bernadette opened and owned Sip! Mendocino, and carried wines from wineries and vineyards from throughout the county. Bernadette has long standing relationships with wine industry stakeholders from throughout the county, and is aware of the unique challenges in forging cooperation from the varied rugged individualists that make up that wine scene. No one is better positioned to increase the reputation of the county’s wines and the prices paid for the county’s grapes. These positive improvements will not come overnight, but initiative by initiative, story by story, year by year, Bernadette will oversee and usher in a new and better age for Mendocino County’s wines and winegrapes. Cheers to Bernadette!



Hopland Passport is coming up soon, in just nine days, on Saturday, October 17 and Sunday, October 18. This is an opportunity to taste wines, paired with food, at 15 local wineries, over two days. For more information, or to pick up your $45 tickets, visit HoplandPassport.com.

EDITED TO ADD: I am limited by space restrictions in my column, but not here online, and I have a few more notes about winery charity:

First, more about the Valley Fire Fundraiser on October 25

Neighbors helping Neighbors is the theme of Mendocino County’s Valley Fire Fundraiser on Sunday, October 25 from 4:00-8:00 pm at the Redwood Empire Fairgrounds in Ukiah.

Sheriff Tom Allman pulled together a group of local leaders, businesses and service clubs to organize a community-wide dinner, auction & music event raise money to support the long term rebuilding efforts of our Lake County neighbors.

Bands such as the Ford Brothers and the Funky Dozen plus one or more Latino groups will be playing. Spaghetti and taco dinners are on the menu. Local 4-H Club members will be selling desserts and local wineries and breweries are providing libations.

McFadden Farm has donated an assortment basket of wine and farm goods for auction.

McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room's donation to help victims of the Valley Fire. Photo by John Cesano

McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room’s donation to help victims of the Valley Fire. Photo by John Cesano

I, also, pulled a special assortment case from my own collection, including four different reds from the amazing 2007 vintage, for another auction item.

A Valley Fire auction donation from my collection. Photo by John Cesano

A Valley Fire auction donation from my collection. Photo by John Cesano

Tickets are $15 per person in advance, $20 at the door. Children six and under are free. Tickets are available at Mendo Mill Stores in Ukiah, Lakeport, Clear Lake, Willits, and Fort Bragg, and at Chavez Market on South State Street in Ukiah.

All proceeds from the benefit go directly to the Lake County Wildfire Relief Fund created by North Coast Opportunities with the support of Mendo Lake Credit Union and the Savings Bank of Mendocino County. All administration costs are being waived which means one hundred percent of donations go directly to benefit those who have been affected by the fire damage.

To volunteer or donate an item to the raffle and auction, contact lm@ncoinc.org. Auction items may be dropped off at the Redwood Empire Fairgrounds office from 9-5 Monday through Friday. For more information call Heidi Dickerson at 467-3230.

Both Sutter Home Family Vineyards and Little Black Dress Wines each have initiatives aimed at helping fight against breast cancer. This is especially heartwarming as our Congress seeks to defund the nation’s largest screener for breast cancer.

Speaking of Sutter Home Family Vineyards, they have launched an initiative that is very close to my heart, Sutter Home for the Holidays, helping deserving American troops home to their own families this holiday season.

Sutter Home has paired with the Veterans Business Outreach Center to unite active duty military personnel with their families for the holidays.

“Family is at the heart of our business, so we understand how meaningful it is for our troops to spend the holidays with their families,” said Sutter Home CEO and Vietnam veteran Roger Trinchero, “It is an honor to support our troops and give back to those who sacrifice so much every day.”

Now through the end of the year, eligible active duty, reserve, and national guard  U.S. Military service members may apply at http://www.vbocix.com to win a trip home anywhere in the continental U.S., with up to 25 winners selected based on financial need, outstanding service, and creativity in answering the question, “What does home mean to you?” Sutter Home for the Holidays will provide round-trip airfare, ground transportation, and hotel accommodations for up to five nights.

Okay, I served honorably as an U.S. Army Infantry Sergeant, and my son is in basic training at Ft. Benning, GA to become an Infantry soldier as well. We will get my son home for the holidays if his new permanent duty station allows him leave, although sadly I can’t do that and attend his graduation “turning blue” ceremony as well on what I earn. There are other military families who earn less than I do, and a trip home on leave is outside their financial ability, so Sutter Home’s generosity and support for our troops really strikes a chord for me. I will be stopping at Trinchero Napa Valley on my next trip to the Napa valley to show my appreciation for their good works by purchasing one of their company’s top end red wines.

Thank you to everyone inside the industry and out for your acts of kindness and charity.


John on Wine – The wine wheel keeps turning

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, September 17, 2015

Following the column two weeks ago about what Mendocino County’s wineries can do to increase the reputation of their wines and the county’s vineyards can do to increase the prices paid for their grapes, and outlining what we are doing well and not well, I had a tremendous amount of feedback, all positive, and I thank folks for reading and for reaching out.

Following the piece, I was a guest speaker for the Rotary Club of Ukiah, and as the piece, out of all the pieces I have written over the years, was mentioned, I led off by reading it aloud. Then I spoke about wine tasting in general, McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room in particular, and some of the other wine growing areas of the county, before taking a look at what we can do cooperatively, using the Coro Mendocino as a shining example of various county wineries working together in a way that benefits the whole county wine scene, moving forward.

Following my talk, I took questions, and the two asked both dealt with the challenges unique to our county in making our case to the general public, the trade, and the media about the quality of our grapes and the wines they make.

In response to those questions, I explained that Mendocino County has a strong streak of rugged individualism that runs through it, and that is a defining characteristic of our county’s wine scene and the many characters that make up our vineyard and winery owners. In the past, people were hired from outside the county to try to help lead the various promotional wine organizations that have existed, and none fully appreciated that unique maverick spirit, and many initiatives that should have been implemented may have failed because forging cooperation among so many different folks is made more difficult by that lack of appreciation for the unique character of the county. The key to forging cooperation is awareness of the differences, meeting each of the county’s stakeholders, listening to their unique viewpoints, genuinely appreciating them, and asking for participation – in spite of some small objections – for the general overall betterment of the larger group. There has been too much talking at, instead of listening and talking with, in the past, and in a voluntary group there will not be complete agreement or participation, but it can be better. Realistic, pragmatic, consensus building, and a long term dedication that will span decades, can see the wine world at large appreciate the quality of our wines more and that will inevitably lead to higher prices for our grapes.

Among the Rotarians were two members of the county’s wine scene; Monte Hill, a board member of Coro Mendocino, and George Phelan, winemaker for Dunnewood, Mendocino Vineyards, and the Coro wine of Clos du Bois. Also present were two McFadden wine club members; Michael Laybourn, who invited me to speak, and Jon Ferguson, who asked me to tell folks about Second Saturday in Hopland, where half a dozen wineries offer complimentary food and wine pairings and a sale on the featured wine, for visitors. As an example, on Saturday, September 12, McFadden offered up an asparagus and avocado salad to pair with the county’s (state’s, nation’s ?) top awarded bubbly. Other participants include Graziano, Jaxon Keys, McNab Ridge, Cesar Toxqui, and Milano, and there may well be more. I’m sure the professional marketers for Destination Hopland comb over the Facebook and Twitter posts, and subscribe to the newsletters, of each member winery and pull the info about Second Saturday, and other events, and post it to their constantly updated event calendar at DestinationHopland.com; I know I did when I handled some of their marketing.

Thank you very much to the Rotary Club of Ukiah for your invitation, for the opportunity to share my love for Mendocino County wine and those who make it, and for donating to ShelterBox disaster relief in my name, and for allowing me to increase that donation with a donation of my own. I look forward to your visits to my tasting room, and to those of our neighbors throughout the county. Tell them I sent you.

My son Charlie is at Fort Benning, Georgia for U.S. Army Infantry basic training. As I write this, I saw him off just over two weeks ago, and since then I have heard his voice for less than two minutes, and am still waiting on his first letter to arrive with a return address that will allow me to send him letters from home to help brighten a less than completely fun, and oftentimes wholly un-fun, experience. I would love to fly out for his graduation and put my own Infantry blue cord on his dress uniform; we’ll see how that goes, getting away from the tasting room at all in December is always difficult.

One week before he left, Charlie helped me move across town in Ukiah, to a lovely townhouse that met my needs better, with a laundry room to save me trips to the laundromat, where I am allowed to cook at my outside patio on my ridiculously large grill, and can have a kitten to keep me company now that my son has moved out.

So many boxes to unpack, so much to organize, but enough done that I can take a break from unboxing and get back out and do some wine tasting. Look for a winery spotlight piece on Yorkville Cellars in the next couple of weeks, a long overdue visit there is next.

Here’s a terrifically delicious and simple recipe with wine to try: An old Navy buddy of Guinness McFadden, artisan potter Dick Lumaghi, throws his beautiful culinary pottery at the Farm, and this recipe is made using one of his Yunnan Steamer pots, available for sale in the McFadden tasting room, with similar steamer pots available in kitchen shops and online. I can attest that this steamer is awesome…..whether cooking a dish from the start or heating leftovers.

Dick Lumaghi Yunnan Steamer Pot

Dick Lumaghi Yunnan Steamer Pot

Place chicken pieces inside the Lumaghi steamer pot, add a half cup any of Mendocino County’s top awarded Sparkling Cuvee Brut wines and three slices of fresh ginger. Place two or three strips of green onion on top of the chicken. Cover, place the steamer on top of a pot of boiling water and let steam for 45 minutes.

Note: the boiling water in your pot, under the pottery steamer pot vessel, may likely need to be replenished once or twice during the steam cooking of this dish. Enjoy!

John Compisi is an online wine writer, lives in northern Sonoma County with his wife Linda, and visits Mendocino County often.

John was invited by Consortium Mendocino to sit in on the winemaker blending trials for the 2012 vintage of Coro Mendocino wines.

John produced a four part series of stories from the experience, and here are links to those four stories: Part I, Part II, Part III, and Part IV

John is a friend, a good writer, and I am happy to share links to his stories about Mendocino County’s flagship wine, Coro, and help spread the word about these wines.


Recently, Sip! Mendocino in Hopland played host for the release of the 2012 vintage of Coro Mendocino wines, the uniquely Mendocino Zinfandel-centric cooperative wine program, with the 2012 Coro Mendocino blends of Barra of Mendocino, Brutocao Cellars, Clos du Bois, Golden Vineyards, McFadden Farm, Parducci Wine Cellars, Ray’s Station, and Testa Vineyards each being unveiled.

2012 was a terrific vintage for reds, a warmer than average year, with near perfect growing conditions, yielding richly flavorful wines. Each winery produced their own version of Coro, with notes from each of the participating winemakers during pre-bottling blind barrel tastings to guide them.

If there was a ‘typical’ Coro in 2012, which there wasn’t, it would have been made with 50 percent Zinfandel, 17 percent Petite Sirah, 16 percent Syrah, 6 percent Carignane, 4 percent Primitivo, 3 percent Charbono, 2 percent Barbera, 1 percent Grenache, and 1 percent Cabernet Sauvignon in the blend — that’s what I get when I averaged the components for each of the eight wines poured at Sip.

All of the wines were tasty, with the stellar fruit of 2012 showing well. Each individual winery will sell their wines at about $40 through their tasting rooms, and all eight will be available for purchase at Sip in Hopland, beginning in the next week or so. Look for the Coro wines grown organically to show up at the Ukiah Co-op soon.

McFadden will release the 2012 Coro at their Annual Farm Party on Saturday, July 11 (call 744-8463 for tickets), and each of the other seven wineries will find the right time and way to release their new wine. When you see them, taste them, you’ll enjoy each.

One of the folks I work with invited me to join her large family on the coast for a camping weekend, which allowed me the opportunity to see some of our county’s more rural, and beautiful, areas; that, and I got to enjoy lots of delicious authentic Mexican food, paired with McFadden’s Late Harvest Riesling, 2011 Coro and award winning Sparkling Cuvee Brut. Thank you to Juanita Plaza and all of her family for making me feel so welcome.

While on the coast, I visited Sally Ottoson’s Pacific Star Winery, located on the west side of Highway 1, 12 miles north of Fort Bragg at the 73.58 milepost. Open daily from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Pacific Star is a popular destination for tourists visiting Mendocino’s coast.

Picnicking on the Mendocino Coast is possible at Pacific Star Winery. (Photo by John Cesano)

Picnicking on the Mendocino Coast is possible at Pacific Star Winery. (Photo by John Cesano)

When I visited, Holly poured me six wines for a $5 tasting fee. The glassware was INAO (Institut National des Appellations d’Origine). The egg shape bowl of INAO glassware is designed to fully enhance the concentration of aroma and allow the wine to be swirled without spilling. Noted wine critic Robert Parker called INAO glasses, “The finest inexpensive tasting glass in the world,” and I was pleased to taste from them.

Holly attends to several tasters at family-friendly Pacific Star Winery. (Photo by John Cesano)

Holly attends to several tasters at family-friendly Pacific Star Winery. (Photo by John Cesano)

First up was the 2013 Pacific Star Orange Muscat, a sweeter, but not too sweet at less than 1 percent residual sugar, white wine. An apricot and floral nose gives way to a mouth of ripe stone fruit, herb, and mown hay.

Sally holds her white wines in stainless steel, rather than oak, for brighter fruit expression, and many of the wines are poured through an aerator to further accentuate the fruit notes.

2012 Pacific Star Viognier — grassy peach and pear with a touch of astringency

In 2006, Sally found there were fault lines under the property, and that was the inspiration for Pacific Star’s NV It’s My Fault, a non vintage red wine, made from a “secret blend” of six varieties. Sally used to make a Coro wine, so this is like that…sort of.

The nose gave up notes of raspberry, cola, herb, cherry, blackberry, mint and light oak. The tannins were a little tight, the oak was evident, and there were sweet tart black cherry, raspberry and darker berry notes in the mouth taste.

2012 Pacific Star Tempranillo, with fruit from Lake County, chocolaty, blueberry, and blackberry, with supple tannin, was really nicely balanced, and had good mouthfeel.

Holly told me that Charbono was Sally’s flagship wine, and the grapes came from Eddie Graziano’s farm in Calpella.

2012 Pacific Star Charbono — Really lovely wine nose of deep full multi-noted blackberry, cassis, oak, and dusty cocoa earthiness. The mouth showed medium firm tannin, and there was plenty of aging potential for this wine. I picked up berry fruit, earthiness, leather, and tart blackberry.

2012 Pacific Star Cabernet Sauvignon — I picked up slightly greener, more vegetal, vinous notes with herb supporting a nose of raspberry and blackberry fruit, and a mouth of bright, slightly tart blackberry.

On the coast, Pacific Star Winery is a lovely place to visit, taste wine and enjoy a picnic lunch. Don’t fret if you show up without food, as there are packages of meats, cheeses and crackers available for purchase in the tasting room.

I finished up my weekend with a visit to see Crispin Cain and Tamar Kaye at their American Craft Whiskey Distillery to pick up a bottle of their two-year Rye Whiskey as a gift for my stepfather. While there, I sampled the latest barrel sample of the Bourbon, cut from last tasting’s 60 percent alcohol to 41 percent with collected rain water, and it tasted great. I also tasted their son Devin Cain’s 1850 Cocktail, based on the Sazerac, and ended up buying a bottle for myself.

In 1838, the first cocktail was created in New Orleans featuring French brandy and Peychaud bitters, and by 1850, that first cocktail, the Sazerac, had achieved popularity. Over the years, the recipe has been tweaked, with the addition of absinthe and sugar, and American rye whiskey replacing French brandy.

I love Devin’s 1850, and I love the absinthe ice cream that Crispin and Tamar make for events, but I don’t like absinthe. Crispin told me that similarly most folks would not drink straight vanilla, but enjoy vanilla ice cream, as both vanilla and absinthe are powerfully flavorful on their own. Thanks for helping me understand my own confusing and seemingly contradictory tasting experience.

Devin, like his father, worked at Germain-Robin Alambic Brandy and learned the art and science of distilling there before making use of that knowledge to craft the craft whiskeys, gins, vodkas, liqueurs, absinthe and bourbon I have enthused about here previously.

Devin’s version of the 1850 cocktail, or Sazerac, is informed by his time with Alambic, tasting aged and new brandies, and noting their differences; Devin’s 1850 Cocktail is made from newer brandy aged and colored by French oak barrels, made more flavorful by infusion of sassafras, vanilla, dried fruit, and other exotica, and clear wheat whiskey instead of the rye I expected, plus absinthe in a 1 part per 500 parts ratio.

Creating each individual element, and then finding the perfect blend of those elements, involved nearly 100 tasting trials over the course of a full year, but that level of attention to detail is something that I have come to expect, and appreciate, from everything coming out of the family’s American Craft Whiskey Distillery.

This is a perfect cocktail, a whole glorious bottle of perfectly blended cocktails, and an improvement on the standard Sazerac, bringing a welcome memory of my last New Orleans visit home to Ukiah.

John on Wine – The Last Supper

This piece ran today, in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper, but likely with a few selected photographs. This online archive is richer for the photographic contributions of Bryan Elhardt and Tom Liden; thank you both. -John

The Baby Jesse (photograph provided by his father Bryan Elhardt)

The Baby Jesse (photograph provided by his father Bryan Elhardt)

Genesis: In the beginning, April 20, 2013, Chef Jesse Elhardt created a menu to pair with Greg Graziano’s wines for a wine club dinner at Crush Italian Steakhouse; Jesse said, “Let there be food”; and there was food, and Jesse saw that the food was good.


Chef Jesse Elhardt’s last dinner cooking at Crush Ukiah was the Chef’s Winemakers Dinner featuring Graziano Family of Wines (photograph by John Cesano)

From that dinner, the Chef’s Winemaker Dinner series at Crush was born, and begot nights that featured Chef Jesse’s food creations paired with the wines of Saracina (July 2013), Barra of Mendocino and Girasole (August 2013), Bonterra (November 2013), 2010 Coro Mendocino (December 2013), Yorkville Cellars (April 2014), Cesar Toxqui Cellars (November 2014), McFadden Farm (January 2015), 2011 Coro Mendocino (February 2015), and finally ending where he began, with a Chef’s Winemaker Dinner featuring the wines of Graziano Family of Wines on May 20, 2015 and Greg and Trudi Graziano. Chef Jesse also squeezed in a sold out wine club only dinner for McNab Ridge earlier that week.

St. Gregory Sparking Wine for appetizers and Monte Volpe Pinot Grigio for the First Course (photograph by Tom Liden)

St. Gregory Sparking Wine for appetizers and Monte Volpe Pinot Grigio for the First Course (photograph by Tom Liden)

The Graziano Family of Wines dinner was the last supper Chef Jesse would cook at Crush in Ukiah. Jesse will continue with Crush, in Chico and San Diego for a short while before embarking on a 2,600 mile hike on the Pacific Crest Trail. Jesse’s parents, Bryan and Lynne Jackson Elhardt, and Crush owners Doug and Debbie Guillon attended this very special wine & food event.

Chef Jesse talks with John Cesano and Graziano manager Mike Williams before dinner (photograph by Bryan Elhardt)

Chef Jesse talks with John Cesano and Graziano manager Mike Williams before dinner (photograph by Bryan Elhardt)

The incredibly fortunate attendees met in the bar area to enjoy winemaker Greg Graziano’s 2010 St. Gregory Cuvee Trudi (named for his wife) Brut Rose, paired with both a wonton cup filled with Prawn & Scallop Ceviche, with saffron, tomato, red onion, jalapeno, cucumber & parsley; and Fried Colossal Olives stuffed with a mixture of cooked Italian sausage, ricotta, and Gorgonzola, soaked in buttermilk then coated with flour, semolina, and ground risotto, which were incredibly delicious, with a meaty, nutty texture, and a brine saltiness that bordered on addictive, and paired brilliantly with Greg’s phenomenally delicious sparkler, my favorite of all he has yet released.


The amazing fried colossal olives and Greg’s equally amazing sparkling brut rose (photograph by John Cesano)

Restaurant manager Kevin Kostoff shepherded the diners into the banquet room to find seats, and then welcomed all assembled to a very special evening, introducing our servers Ben & John, beverage manner Nick Karavas, and owners Doug and Debbie, before turning things over to Jesse, who upon announcing, “this will be my last wine dinner in Ukiah,” was greeted with crying and gnashing of teeth.

Chef Jesse breaks the news that this is his Last Supper at Crush Ukiah (photograph by Tom Liden)

Chef Jesse breaks the news that this is his Last Supper at Crush Ukiah (photograph by Tom Liden)

Jesse took bread, gave thanks to Greg and Trudi, and broke the bread, gave it to the patrons, and said, “Take this, all of you, and dip it in Greg’s organic olive oil.”

Winemaker Greg Graziano (photograph by Tom Liden)

Winemaker Greg Graziano (photograph by Tom Liden)

The first course paired Crispy Veal Sweetbreads with white bean puree, Neuske Applewood smoke lardon, tempura brownbutter caper berry, and chive stick; Insalata Mista with gem lettuce, arugula, grilled radicchio, marinated heirloom tomato, cucumber, marinated artichoke, and red onion; and Bacala All’Amalfitana four day saffron constantly changed water soak, salt cod mini cakes with Yukon gold, housemade bread crumb, lemon aioli, and parsley oil; with Greg and Trudi’s 2013 Monte Volpe Pinot Grigio from 20 acres of Potter Valley vineyards, 100% fermented in neutral French oak barrels, made in the style of the great wines of Friuli.

Insalata Mista - mixed salad (Photograph by Tom Liden)

Insalata Mista – mixed salad (photograph by Tom Liden)

The second course was where Jesse performed his miracle with the fishes. Roasted Snake River Farms Pork Belly and Pork Shoulder Ragu on top of brown butter and aromatics ‘giant’ gnocchi with a reduced Reggiano cream, fried frico cheese for texture, and micro arugula to pair with Greg’s 2011 Enotria Barbera; and a Cedar Plank Wild Scottish Salmon, four pepper spice crusted, with a Petite Sirah reduction, porcini dust, morel, white asparagus, and hazelnut to pair with Greg’s 2011 Graziano Petite Sirah. Also served were Parslied New Creamer Potatoes with roasted red and yellow peppers, coppa, and baby peeled clip top carrots bathed in butter; and Triple Creamed Corn, of corn stock, corn pudding, corn kernel, chipotle compound butter, and micro cilantro.

Cedar Plank Salad, served with Petite Sirah; the miracle with the fishes by Chef Jesse (Photograph by John Cesano)

Cedar Plank Salmon, served with Petite Sirah; the miracle with the fishes by Chef Jesse (photograph by John Cesano)

Let me draw your attention to the miracle: Jesse paired fish with Petite Sirah, and pulled it of magnificently. Petite Sirah is big red wine. Fish is fish, and easily overpowered by big reds, but Jesse added layers of flavor to his Salmon, cooking it on a cedar plank, crusting it in four crushed peppers, glazed it in a reduction of Greg’s Petite Sirah with a touch of dried porcini mushroom dust, and then adding earthy morel mushrooms. The morels by themselves would have been a dish I would happily have enjoyed, and would order if on the menu; sautéed with white asparagus and toasted hazelnuts in butter, with salt and pepper. Building up the salmon, fortifying it, allowed it to pair brilliantly with Greg’s Petite Sirah.

John Cesano and Trudi Graziano (Photograph by Tom Liden)

John Cesano and Trudi Graziano (photograph by Tom Liden)

When supper was ended, before dessert was served, Jesse took a wineglass with 2011 Monte Volpe Tocai Friulano, Late Harvest Dolce Alexandra; again he gave thanks and praise; thanks to winemaker Greg and Greg’s wife Trudi Graziano, his parents Lynne and Bryan, and owners Doug and Debbie; and praise to the entire team of cooks and Crush’s new head chef Steve Lorenz, and then raised his glass, which was met by the crowd in a toast.

When the supper was ended, Jesse took the wine glass, gave thanks and praise (Photograph by Tom Liden)

When the supper was ended, Jesse took the wine glass, gave thanks and praise (photograph by Tom Liden)

Dessert was Monte Volpe Olive Oil Cake, apricot-currant compote, and a fresh ginger gelato with toasted almond crumb that Jesse said he was, “really excited about.” The cake, made from Greg’s olive oil, helped absorb some of the sweetness of his 43% residual sugar late harvest wine, while the fruit compote helped tie the two together. The gelato was a wonderfully delicious bonus, a last gift from Jesse to the fortunate witnesses to his last supper.

I have been fortunate, and have attended every one of Chef Jesse’s winemaker dinners for the public at Crush in Ukiah. While no one is irreplaceable, Jesse brought a high degree of creativity and passion to each dinner, producing different hand made pasta dishes, making uniquely different but always rich ragu sauces, turning ordinary vegetables into entree worthy dishes, and presenting playful and delicious desserts, always allowing the food to showcase the qualities of the wines they would be paired with. Jesse Elhardt is a talent that Ukiah will miss, but we all wish him the best in his new adventures to come.

John On Wine – Get your tickets now

This post will be published on Thursday, April 9 in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper

Every so often, I use my column as an event listing for my readers. Today is one of those days. While certainly not a complete list of wine country events, here are some incredibly worthwhile things to do, and most will sell out in advance, so do not dawdle, get your tickets now.

Saturday, April 11 – The annual Celebration of Mendocino County Sparkling Wines – Mendocino County’s best sparkling wines from Elke Vineyards, Graziano Family of Wines, McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room, Parducci Wine Cellars, Nelson Family Vineyards, Roederer Estate, Scharffenberger Cellars, Signal Ridge Cellars, Terra Sávia Winery, and Yorkville Cellars, paired with fresh oysters from Tomales Bay with Mignonette or Somendo ranch lemons, paella Valenciana, assorted cheeses with fresh bread from Schat’s Bakery, strawberries with melted Swiss dark Chocolate, Meyer lemon almond cake, and live music. Tickets are $55 online in advance and TODAY IS THE LAST DAY FOR ADVANCE TICKETS! GET YOUR’S HERE, $65 at the door. This is THE Event to go to if you love sparkling wine and great food, and is happening this Saturday – get your tickets NOW!

Saturday, April 18 – Earth Day at Barra of Mendocino – Join the Barra family in a celebration to honor Mother Earth and the rich bounty of Mendocino County, from 10-5. Be the first to taste Barra’s organic olive oil made from olives grown on the family farm of Bella Collina.  Translated as, “Beautiful Hillside,” this area provides gravelly soil for these trees to thrive right alongside Barra’s prized Petite Sirah and Zinfandel vines.  While you’re at it, taste newly released vintages of organic wines, and enjoy the gardens and scenic surroundings.  For more information:  (707) 485-0322

Saturday, April 25 & Sunday, April 26 – Passport to Dry Creek Valley – Over one weekend, Passport guests are welcomed into nearly 50 wineries throughout Dry Creek Valley, each offering a unique pairing of premium wine, gourmet food and entertainment. Take a vineyard tour for a grape-to-glass look at Dry Creek Valley wine. Sample exclusive vintages, rarely available to taste. Meet winemakers and grapegrowers – the generations of people behind the wine and magical ‘Dry Creek Valley spirit’. Savor exquisite food and wine pairings from acclaimed chefs. I LOVE Dry Creek Passport, will be attending for the third year in a row, and with so many wineries participating, no two Passports are the same. Enjoy! Tickets are $141.38 and available online at www.drycreekvalley.org

Thursday, April 30 – Thirsty Thursday at SIP! Mendocino in Hopland – Tickets are $20, or one free ticket per SIP! wine club membership. Each month offers a different terrific tasting. Last month I enjoyed a tasting of five wonderful Sake paired with delicious Sushi from Oco Time, this month could be anything from a pairing of the County’s best Alsatian whites with the foods of Alsace, or Pinot Noir with mushroom risotto. For more info, and to grab your tickets, call (707) 744-8375.

Saturday, May 2 & Sunday, May 3 – Hopland Passport – Closer to home, Hopland’s Passport event is manageable, and just the right size to be able to visit all the participating wineries without rushing. I’ll be working at McFadden, of course, and think we offer up the event’s best wines and food from our certified organic farm, but there is also proudly offered food and wine pairings at Brutocao, Campovida, Cesar Toxqui, Frey, Graziano, Jaxon Keys, Jeriko, McNab Ridge, Milano, Nelson, Rivino, and Terra Savia. Two day ‘early bird’ tickets are $45 and available at www.destinationhopland.com or $55 at participating wineries during the event. This is probably the best event value of the bunch.

Sunday, May 10 – Mother’s Day Brunch at Barra of Mendocino – Honor the special women in your life this Mother’s Day with a brunch celebration at BARRA of Mendocino Winery.  Enjoy a scrumptious brunch buffet with friends and family. Take in the sounds of a three piece jazz ensemble, stroll through blooming gardens and take family photos. Honor the women in your life with this special day of pampering! Brunch will be served from 10:00 am – 1:00 pm. Reservations are required and children are welcome. $35 for adults/ Special Pricing for Wine Club Members (limit two tickets per member) and $12 for children under 12 years of age. To purchase tickets, please call Katrina at (707) 485-0322, or drop by Barra’s tasting room at 7051 N. State Street in Redwood Valley. My son Charlie took his mother Lisa last year and both reported that it was a lovely event. Do this for Mother’s Day.

Friday, May 15 through Sunday, May 17 – 18th annual Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival – Taste the world-class Anderson Valley Pinot Noirs of more than 50 producers from around California and savor perfectly paired foods designed to complement the exceptional Anderson Valley Pinot wines. I had a spectacular time last year, and look forward to attending again this year. If you love Pinot Noir, or even like it, you will be impressed with the incredibly high quality of the valley’s flagship variety. Various tasting, technical conference, and winemaker dinner tickets are available, ranging from $50 to $135 for each event, online at www.avwines.com

Wednesday, May 20 – Graziano Chef’s Wine Dinner at Crush Italian Steakhouse – Greg Graziano makes terrific, well priced wines. His tasting room is right next to mine, and I know he has legions of fans for his wines. I’ve written many times about how great the chef’s winemaker dinners at Crush are; they operate like a well-buttered machine. I do not need to see a wine list or menu to know how good this is going to be. I’ve got my ticket already. Tickets are $75, dinner, wine, tax and tip inclusive; call Crush at (707) 463-0700 for tickets.

Friday, June 19 – 2012 Coro Vintage Release Party – Join the Coro winemakers for a gourmet dinner for two paired with our wines and take home a complete set of the 2012 vintage. Seating is limited. Reservations required. $700 per couple. Includes the full collection of the 2012 vintage ($320 value) and complimentary valet service. The 2012 vintage consists of 8 wineries: Barra of Mendocino, Brutocao Cellars, Clos du Bois, Golden Cellars, McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room, Parducci Wine Cellars, Ray’s Station, and Testa Vineyards. Coro Mendocino 2012 Vintage Release Party Friday, June 19th 2015 6:00 – 10:00pm at Dogpatch WineWorks, San Francisco. For the most fun, ask to sit with Guinness McFadden or me, John Cesano; we tell great Irish stories or perform stupid magic tricks, and I’ll leave it to you to guess who does which. Tickets are available at SIP! Mendocino in Hopland; or call (707) 744-8375. Do this for Father’s Day.

Friday, June 19 through Sunday, June 21 – A Taste of Redwood Valley – The weekend kicks off with a Friday night winemaker’s dinner at Barra, tickets are $65, and the fun continues with two day weekend tasting tickets at either $30 in advance or $35 at the event. Three day tickets are discounted at $90. Participating wineries and distilleries include Barra/Girasole, Brown, Frey, Germain-Robin/Craft Distillers, Giuseppe/Neese, Graziano, Silversmith, and Testa. Get your tickets in advance online at www.atasteofredwoodvalley.com

Saturday August 22 – Yorkville Highlands Wine Festival – This family-friendly festival and auction is at Meyer Family Cellars this year. Festivities start at 1pm. Highlights will include tasting scores of award-winning wines made and grown within the Highlands around Anderson Valley.  The price includes a delicious farm-fresh lunch and scrumptious desert, a tempting silent auction where you can bid on rare bottles and hundreds of bargains galore. There’s always the riotous grape stomp along with other wild and wacky games. Advance tickets are $45, or $60 during the event, and available at www.yorkvillehighlands.org

John On Wine – Coro, Crush, Coro and Crush

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, April 2, 2015

Crush Italian Steakhouse in Ukiah, Coro Mendocino, Crush, Coro, sometimes it seems that I am writing my column about one or the other with a frequency that squeezes other worthy subjects out. There are other great restaurants in Ukiah; Patrona, Ritual, and Oco Time come immediately to mind; but Crush is uniquely suited to host spectacular chef’s wine dinners, with their private dining room and top notch kitchen and front of house team. Anderson Valley is well known as a place where premium Pinot Noir and Alsatian variety white wines are born; inland Mendocino grows some terrific Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc, Bordeaux varieties; but Coro Mendocino is the county’s flagship wine, and the cooperative element to the program has me writing about these Zinfandel-centric blends made by different great winemakers with deserved prevalence.

Guinness McFadden makes a Coro wine and, fortunately for me, he was overwhelmed with meetings and sent me to sit with the Coro winemakers to taste barrel samples of the 2013 Coro wines being produced by Barra, Brutocao, Clos du Bois, Golden, Graziano, Parducci, Testa, and, of course, McFadden, on March 18.

I tasted through the wines in January, for the second of four blind tastings, with the winemakers, each giving notes of unvarnished constructive criticism on each wine, so adjustments could be made. I tasted them again yesterday, for the third group Coro winemaker blind tasting, and the tweaks made in the intervening two months had every one of the wines positively singing. As an example, Guinness reduced the blend of his wine from 70% Zinfandel to 67%, and increased the Syrah in his blend from 20% to 23%, with the remaining 10% unchanged and given over to Petite Sirah. That small change improved the wine remarkably, providing balance and integration.

Doubly fortunate, I was also able to blind taste the finished, bottled, but not yet released, 2012 vintage Coro wines, to help judge their weight, in advance of the multi course 2012 vintage Coro Release Party at dogpatch WineWorks in San Francisco on June 19 (tickets would make a perfect Father’s Day Gift). Again, the wines of Barra, Brutocao, Clos du Bois, Golden, McFadden, Parducci, Ray’s Station, and Testa all tasted wonderful, each their own unique wine, and vintage different from the just tasted 2013 Coro wines.

Triply fortunate, that same evening, I attended a Chef’s Wine Dinner at Crush Italian Steakhouse in Ukiah, featuring incredible dishes prepared by Chef Jesse Elhardt and his team, and the lineup of 2011 vintage Coro wines.

Rusty Martinson of Testa, Owen Smith of Barra, Hoss Milone of Brutocao, and Dennis Patton of Golden. (photo by John Cesano)

Rusty Martinson of Testa, Owen Smith of Barra, Hoss Milone of Brutocao, and Dennis Patton of Golden. (photo by John Cesano)

The evening started off with passed Gazpacho Shooters of San Marzano (the best) tomato, olive oil, sherry vinegar, and Malden salt; which were the best gazpacho I have ever tasted, and paired perfectly with the McFadden Sparkling Cuvee Brut.

After the ‘meet & greet’ appetizers, the lucky 70 attendees at the sold out dinner moved into the private dining room and took seats. Four Coro wineglasses, appetizer, and main course plates were in place, and the first course wines were poured, all 2011 vintage Coro wines, from McFadden, Parducci, Clos du Bois, and Testa. These four ‘lighter’ 2011 Coro wines were substantial, as was the food from the kitchen: Crush Antipasto with four assorted cured meats, four assorted cheeses, cornichons, olives, peppers, crostini, olive oil, and course mustard; Spicy Lamb Balls with Calabrian chili from Italy, romesco with toasted almonds and hazelnuts, feta, mint, and micro basil; and Seared Day Boat Scallops with a rosemary fig jam, bacon couscous, and a baby kale salad topped with white Champagne vinaigrette.

I Love the lamb meatballs, they were incredibly flavorful, and paired beautifully with sips of each of the four Coro wines from the flight. One of the cheeses, a Parmigiano-Reggiano, also was a particular delight when paired with the wines. The scallops, fresh from San Francisco the day before, was a spectacular dish, but honestly would have paired better with the lighter ‘meet & greet’ wines served earlier, as the Coro wines overpowered the delicious but delicate flavors of the dish for me, but easily resolved as I just ate the scallop without the wine, and loved them.

Gracia Brown of Visit Mendocino, Inc. (photo by John Cesano)

Gracia Brown of Visit Mendocino, Inc. (photo by John Cesano)

First plate cleared, wines dumped, new wines were poured, the 2011 Coro wines from Brutocao, Barra, Fetzer, and Golden, and the second food course to impress was brought out; Roasted Whole Filet Tenderloin with spiced crust, roasted mushrooms, a board sauce, and red wine demi-glace; One Hundred Layer Lasagna of fresh pasta, ten hour ragu, béchamel, tomato, reggiano, and fresh herb; Roasted Zucchini Ribbons with garlic chip, basil pesto, cherry tomato confit, and olive oil; and Potato au Dauphinoise with herb infused cream and cheddar bread crumb.

Sips of each of the five wines, I held onto some McFadden Coro, with bites of each food creation, were spectacular. The tender tenderloin of certified Angus beef, a perfect medium rare, cooked in butter, with a peppercorn medley crust was as good as meat gets; The lasagna was 100 layers of red, white, and green, representing the colors of the Italian flag, with the Bolognese ragu providing the red, béchamel bringing the white, and every third layer made from a basil infused pasta for the green; the roasted zucchini ribbons were delicious and provided a bright note for the second course; with the potatoes, made from a 1906 recipe, featuring sliced potatoes infused overnight in an herb cream, a must have seconds dish for me.

Dessert was a Flourless Valrhona Chocolate Cake served with house made toasted almond gelato, chocolate crumb, and spun sugar; and paired with a choice of McFadden Late Harvest Riesling or Brutocao, Dunnewood, or Parducci port. This might just be the best dessert I have tasted at Crush yet. I went with the Riesling, which paired perfectly, once again, with Jesse’s food.

All of the night’s wines were wonderful, and there was quite a bit of talk about how good the 2011 vintage Coro showed. Initially thought a ‘weak’ vintage, every Coro was a stellar food wine, and a testament to each winemaker’s skills and a great showing for the Coro program. Without exception, the 2011 Coro wines were delicious, lovely, and showed great finesse, balance, and flavor, each showing differently that intensity of flavor is not limited to over oaked, high alcohol, fruit jamb bombs. These were elegant wines, all.

The next Chef’s Wine Dinner at Crush will feature the wines of Graziano, and will be held on Wednesday, May 20; for tickets call (707) 463-0700.

The next Coro dinner will be on Friday, June 19, at dogpatch WineWorks in San Francisco, when the 2012 vintage Coro Mendocino wines are released. Tickets are $700 per couple, and include a gourmet multi course meal, paired with all eight new Coro wines, and each ticket includes the full collection of 2012 vintage Coro wines to take home. There will also be complimentary valet parking for the dinner, which in San Francisco is a huge bonus. For tickets, call Sip! Mendocino in Hopland at (707) 744-8375, and tell them you want to sit at a McFadden table if you would like to hear Guinness tell a five minute story about an Irish priest and a bike, or be less than dazzled by stupid magic tricks by me. Seriously, I have attended two of these dinners and they are the best wine dinner events you can attend, if you love red wine or Mendocino County. With Father’s Day falling on June 21 this year, tickets to this June 19 dinner really are a perfect gift for any wine loving dads.

It isn’t every day that you get to taste a lineup of an entire Coro vintage, doing so with a great dinner makes it all the better experience. Getting to taste three entire vintages in a day, 24 great wines in all, pretty much makes me the most fortunate tasting room manager and wine writer in California.


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